Immigrant families are starving themselves because of fear of Trump's immigration policies
Immigration Protest, Los Angeles, May 1, 2006 (Shutterstock / Mark Scott Spatny)

Immigrant families across the country are withdrawing from food benefit programs, fearing that their participation will make them a target of the government, and specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Washington Post reports.

Luisa Fortin, who is the SNAP Outreach Coordinator at the Chattanooga Food Bank, represents families in northwest Georgia. She said that more recently, people have asked how food stamps could impact their immigration status.

Since January, five of her families have backed out of the program, including mixed-status families — non-citizen immigrants who have citizen children. "They’re risking hunger out of fear … and my heart just breaks for them," Fortin told the Post.

Other SNAP coordinators and anti-hunger organizations have noticed similar patterns. According to the report, since Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20, there has been both a decline in eligible immigrants applying for SNAP benefits, and an increase in the number of immigrants inquiring about withdrawing from the program.

"This is a response to the climate of fear and terror that immigrant families are living in because of the Trump administration," Jackie Vimo, a policy analyst at the National Immigration Law Center told the outlet. Vimo said these fears are also widespread.

Dr. Eric Bouwens, who works at the Clinica Santa Maria in Grand Rapids, Michigan told Michigan Radio in February that the clinic had received a number of calls from people wanting to cancel their benefits.

"In the past week, we’ve had a number of people call us in a big hurry to get off of their emergency Medicaid or WIC program because they’re concerned that that’s going to trigger them for being sought out for deportation," he said.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, undocumented immigrants are never eligible for food stamps. However, if they have citizen children, they can apply for benefits on their behalf. Immigrant residents with documentation cannot receive food stamps unless they have been in the country for five years with a "specified 'qualified' immigrant status."

Given the current political climate and its effects on immigrant communities — documented or not — immigrants are concerned about their interactions with the government.

The Washington Post reports that immigrants with legal status are wary of applying for SNAP because they don't want it to reflect poorly on them during their citizenship processes. On the other hand, undocumented families are concerned they could end up being targeted by ICE.

"Because of what’s happening with immigration, they want to remain anonymous," the executive director of a suburban Maryland community center working with undocumented communities explained. "They just make do on menial amounts of food."